Student employees at Le James, the newly re-opened McGill Bookstore, are concerned about the future of their employment. On Friday, November 25, employees received an email from their employers announcing that, as the store’s move from McTavish to Sherbrooke and Parc locations has prompted reorganization, the way “casuals” (part-time employees) are scheduled will change.
As opposed to having regular part-time schedules, casuals will now only be scheduled during peak periods, drastically reducing their hours.
On the same day, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), Claire Michela, informed The Daily via email that AMUSE has reached an agreement “in principle” with the University. Michela said they cannot discuss what was agreed upon until AMUSE members vote on the agreement.
Le James employees’ grievances
Several Le James employees reached out to The Daily to voice their grievances regarding the change.
“AMUSE has demanded that part-time workers who have worked 26 consecutive weeks should be considered ‘full-time employees.’ This would mean that the bookstore [has] to increase the student wage and supply benefits to workers who do not even actually work full-time,” a group of employees wrote in a statement to The Daily.
“The McGill bookstore has been forced into negotiating with the union over this, and the outcome has been that all ‘casuals’ (part-time workers) will now only be called in for ‘peak periods,’” the statement continues.
Such peak periods “would include periods such as back to school rush, homecoming, and orientation/special event days, which we estimate would amount to maybe four-five weeks a year. This is a huge drop from the three-five shifts [per] week that many of us work currently.”
Several employees also shared how these changes will impact them.
“The McGill bookstore has been forced into negotiating with the union over this, and the outcome has been that all ‘casuals’ (part-time workers) will now only be called in for ‘peak periods.’”
In an email to The Daily, Leila*, a Le James employee, wrote that “as a student worker, I depend on my job at the McGill Bookstore for a steady bi-weekly income throughout the semester. How am I supposed to support myself by working four weeks a year?”
Another employee, Alex,* wrote, “Shouldn’t on-campus employment protect the interests of student workers? I can’t help but feel that my coworkers and I are being overlooked as part-time employees.”
Katie*, a bookstore employee for two years, told The Daily that “because being a student is my top priority, I depend on the flexibility of being a casual worker to work around my hectic school schedule. Working consecutively for over 26 weeks should not categorize me as a full-time employee.”
“How am I supposed to support myself by working four weeks a year?”
Union leadership responds
However, when The Daily reached out to AMUSE, Michela wrote in an email that the change in employment “has [nothing] to do with negotiations and everything to do with a MUNACA [McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association] grievance. It is not MUNACA’s fault though.”
“This** is not true at all and we are working with MUNACA and bookstore managers to clarify the situation,” she concluded.
In an email to The Daily, MUNACA President Thomas Chalmers wrote, “At this point all we at MUNACA are prepared to say is that this situation seems fraught with rumour and innuendo.”
“Shouldn’t on-campus employment protect the interests of student workers? I can’t help but feel that my coworkers and I are being overlooked as part-time employees.”
While he acknowledged the way casuals are scheduled will change, he added that “we are also very much aware that whenever possible management takes the opportunity to blame unions for the unpopular decisions they take and it would not come as a surprise to us that MUNACA is blamed for the termination of student casuals.”
“This is not true at all and we are working with MUNACA and bookstore managers to clarify the situation.”
Le James employees belong to AMUSE, but managers who supervise different sections of the store fall are under MUNACA.
Confusion over AMUSE’s role in the reduction of hours for casuals at Le James seems to stem from MUNACA and AMUSE having entered a political merger in 2014. The two unions agreed to merge their structure and bylaws, but conserve their pre-existing collective agreements for their separate units.
In a statement to both AMUSE and MUNACA memberships in 2014, union leaderships wrote “that the next round of bargaining would be done side by side, but AMUSE and MUNACA members would vote separately for their respective contracts.”
Leila shared an email Michela wrote to her, in which Michela reiterated that the change in hours concerns a MUNACA grievance, and outlined the steps she has taken to resolve the issue.
Michela has “spoken directly with the MUNACA president who said that his intention is not to get casual employees fired and he is working with us already to solve the issue.” She has also approached bookstore management to ensure she is receiving updates, and arranged a meeting for the employees with human resources and MUNACA.
“Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to keep you from losing your job,” Michela concluded.
According to Leila, Michela has arranged a meeting between the employees, MUNACA, and McGill Human Resources on Friday, December 2, to discuss the employees’ concerns. Chalmers added that AMUSE and MUNACA “have requested a meeting with the Human Relations department for this week, in order to clarify what management’s plans are for the casuals in the Bookstore.”
“Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to keep you from losing your job.”
*Names have been changed.
** Michela is referring to the idea that AMUSE’s agreement with the University led to the change in how casuals are scheduled at Le James.
A previous version of this article stated, “The two unions merged their structure and bylaws, but conserved their pre-existing collective agreements for their separate units.” In fact, the two unions have agreed to this, but have not yet completed the merger: there will be a General Assembly in January to merge the by-laws. The Daily regrets the error.